Thursday, August 6, 2009

Art: the only way to run away without leaving home

When a considerable amount of time has passed since I’ve devoted some time to an interest of mine, my mind starts to crave it, or in an uncanny turn of events, I am bombarded with a multitude of opportunities.
Apparently a woman named Twyla Tharp quoted the title of this blog. I'm not sure who that is. I do know I probably would have claimed that 'Anon' coined the phrase though if my name was Twyla.

It had been a few months since I’d really spent some time in the galleries around Wellington, or read/perused the net to get myself up to speed with the latest. Although I do have a few friends in the art world who keep me up to date, I like to make sure I capitalise on living in a city that apparently has the largest number of galleries in the country in relation to population.

All of a sudden ALL of the galleries ALL over New Zealand and beyond these shores that I have, over zealously, subscribed to over the years decided to invite me to this that and the other. From Dunedin to London and in between, galleries have not forgotten my name or my email address though at times I've wondered if they have.

This is the culture ‘vulture’ sifting back into the economy. The recession, well, recedes, an inch, and those art investments that may seem superfluous to some come screaming back at you a
hundred a miles an hour once there’s a sniff of extra money around. Artists are the grand scale example of 'last on board, first to be pushed off' when money is tight. When one work that could last you a lifetime equates to a year's worth of groceries...well, worrying about starving Ethiopians during a credit crunch goes out the window, it's your own well being that has to come first!
On less facetious note, when I think about it, we in Wellington are lucky to have such a high calibre of galleries here. Starting with Te Papa’s Level 5, the WGN City Gallery and the New Dowse in Lower Hutt and ending at suburban galleries like Suite on Daniell St in Newtown, Solander Gallery out in Island Bay (now on Willis Street in the CBD) and Millwood Gallery in Thorndon. In between the institutions (let's not forget the fabulous Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University) and the locals, galleries in the city such as Page Blackie, Bowen Galleries and the (now sadly former) Janne Land Gallery boast and have boasted both emerging and established artists, of national and international reputations. The importance of the dealer/gallery owner is as vital sometimes as the works itself if they are to be sold, if they are to find a home amongst those of us willing to invest, indulge, and be inspired (for life) by a work of art.

Just recently at the NZ Film Festival, a documentary on local art dealer Peter McLeavey was shown to sold out crowds. It returns to the Paramount theatre next week, thank goodness, because I was far too complacent and missed out on a seat! Naturally many folk around Wellington would already know of the small gallery tucked away on Cuba St. just next to Scopa and upstairs in the same vicinity as the Enjoy Public Art Gallery. McLeavey is well known around these parts and has done his bit in nurturing the careers of well established artists such as Bill Hammond and Gordon Walters.

Also on at the moment out in the Dowse is the exhibiton Thrill Me Every Day: the collection of Celia Dunlop, a Wellingtonian who passed away last year (I think) and bequeathed her collection for the public to enjoy. It really was thrilling to walk around that exhibition, thinking that Dunlop had bought this Ralph Hotere, and that Michael Smither when she was so much younger, and they so less known by the nation. Her philosophy was one I too possess: art was to be enjoyed, and it didn't have to cost the earth. What's marvelling is that many of her works, including John Pule, Seraphine Pick, Colin McCahon, Gordon Walters...the list really does go on, only cost her a mere few hundred dollars. She inadvertently had the foresight, the knowledge, and ultimately, the class and the taste I suppose, to develop a collection that narrated some of the country's finest contemporary art and its history. The exhibition runs until September.

A couple of years back at the City Gallery, I was so stoked to be able to wander around a part of the collection of Jim and Mary Barr. Oh I think these two are just marvellous. Friends of Rita Angus and Evelyn Page, once again an example of those who, may not be artists themselves, but believe in the nurturing of this channel of creativity. Their collection was breath taking, and as they tend to curate many of their exhibitons, I had no doubt that each piece that had been selected to show was carefully done so to give us, Joe Public, a sense of what it is to them to be community and culturally orientated, particularly in New Zealand. While I will always admire the works of overseas artists, I think my purse strings will always tighten should I consider buying major work once I'm in such a position to do so.

Why send good money offshore when some of the world's most talented artists are right here in our neighbourhood, depicting our country, challenging us to think about the world in a new light or different angle: just as daringly as any foreign folk, and further to that, have the desire or the want to take their work and their philosophies overseas themselves. Think on Frances Hodgkins and how when she first emerged onto the NZ art scene, society did not want to hear about it, nor want to see her 'outrageous' style of painting. She left. She travelled to the UK, became an integral part of the Seven and Five society and basically denounced the country!

While times have changed, I would hate to think that I would be turning my back on such talent here if artists who possess half the foresight Hodgkins did should I not maintain the same sort of thinking that McLeavey, Dunlop and the Barrs did and do. Although, that makes it sound like I'm going to be this powerful art dealer. Which I'm not. Unless I win Lotto. Who knows. No one until one day you come round for afternoon tea and you casually sit below a C.F. Goldie...

My rule when considering art to buy? I smile on first glance. Needless to say if you know me that I'll never have a Bill Hammond in the joint then....

Have a lovely weekend!

Works in order:

Interior by Emily Wolfe. 2009. Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Heloise and Francoise by John Drawbridge. 1986. Paperworks Gallery, Napier
Sold by Billy Apple. 1981. Auckland Art Gallery Collection
Peter McLeavey. Photo used for The Man in the Hat.
Simon and Martin by Marti Friedlander. 1965. fhe Galleries
Careworn by Seraphine Pick. 2005. Brooke Gifford Gallery, New Plymouth
Days by John Pule. 2007. For the SAFE animal campaign.
Jim and Mary Barr by Marti Friedlander. 1978. Auckland Art Gallery, gift of Marti Friedlander

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